After #MCHSDoBetter goes viral, other schools urged to act on sexual harassment

As many come forward with their stories of sexual assault using viral hashtags like #HijaAko and #MCHSDoBetter, students and alumni from different schools have one plea in the protection of safer spaces for the youth: “Do better”.

Soon after #MCHSDoBetter became viral, victims from other schools have come forward with their own experiences of assault, harassment, and pedophilia.

Among them are students and alumni from Marikina Science High School (MariSci), Don Alejandro Roces Sr. Science-Technology High School (DARRSTHS), St. Theresa's College Quezon City (STCQC), St. Paul College Pasig (SPCP), Ateneo Junior and Senior High Schools, and Ateneo de Manila University.

Hoping school administrations will act on the matter and provide safer learning environments for the community, they urged others to speak up about their experiences and post them under the hashtags #MARISCIDOBETTER#DARSSTHSDOBETTER#STCDOBETTER#SPCPSQUAREUP, and #TimesUpAteneo.

A quick scan of these hashtags show students and alumni speaking out against sexual harassment and abuse, and calling out the inappropriate behavior of several teachers in their institutions, complete with screenshots.

Some of the incidents reported through the hashtags involved being sent suggestive messages and being asked for sexual favors, as well as incidents of being groomed into becoming a teacher’s romantic partner at a young age.

Seeing the lack of action from the school administrations, many have resorted to the hashtags to push for due process and safe spaces for the youth.

Not long after being under fire, courses of action were released through statements both from the administration and student councils.

Taking action

The administration of Miriam College High School, for instance, quickly formed a committee to investigate incidents of sexual harassment done by their teachers to students, following the rise of #MCHSDoBetter. An email address was also made to be a forum for concerns. (READ: #MCHSdobetter: Groups condemn sexual misconduct of teachers, call for justice)

Meanwhile, MariSci school head Janet Amurao posted a message on the school’s website to acknowledge the social media posts that are circulating about students’ alleged experiences of sexual assault.

Asserting that MariSci does not condone acts of violence in their school or elsewhere, she called on parents and educators to engage in a dialogue with the administrators by contacting the school’s landline at 8-647-94-57.

"We recognize the impact of various experiences in our students’ welfare; it was never our intent to invalidate anyone’s feelings. Together, the young and the old have to address these issues with open minds and compassion to keep both the mind and body healthy," Amurao said.

In a similar fashion, STCQC released a statement reassuring the community that it won’t turn a blind eye on issues involving sexual and verbal harassment.

“We shall be relentless to get to the bottom of all these to ensure the protection of our students. Rest assured that issues on sexual harassment are taken seriously by the administration with due regard to due process and the privacy of the parties involved,” they said.

The Theresian Student Council of STCQC promised that it will exert more effort and take concrete action towards creating a safe environment for students.

They added that students willing to share their experiences of sexual assault can reach out to the student council so they can file a report.

"We need to have a safe environment for students where they can express their feelings to people whom they trust without being overwhelmed with fear of being invalidated or blamed," the Theresian Student Council pointed out.

As #SPCPSQUAREUP started gaining traction, reports of Viber messages from parent representatives surfaced as they urged fellow parents to advise students against signing petitions and posting comments on social media immediately. They asked that students consult their parents and allow the institution to investigate the matter first. Another message requested that parties must "learn all angles of the stories."

Noticing the complaints and reports under the #SPCPSQUAREUP, the St Paul College Pasig administration later opened voice@spcpasig.edu.ph to provide a new communication channel for students.

The SPCP student council added that by submitting a formal letter of complaint to the email address, those who are coming forward are “aiding in the inquisition and assuring that this will no longer be an issue for you and any other student.”

The SPCP administration assured students that any details that will be provided will be held in confidence, and will only be accessed by the Student Coordinating Team or the SPCP student council.

It will also only be disclosed to SPCP administrators and the deliberating committee later on.

These letters may be sent anonymously, though the SPCP student council encourages reports to be submitted with the name of those filing “to ensure a more accurate process” and allow easy communication in case of any inquiries.

Institutionalize reforms

Just recently, the #TimesUpAteneo was revived as several students from Ateneo Junior High School, Ateneo Senior High School (ASHS), and Ateneo de Manila University came forward with reported incidents of sexual harassment by members of the faculty and the student body.

Maria Elissa Lao, the chairperson of the University Gender and Development Focal Point Committee, assured the community that they are verifying reports and are ready to immediately begin an impartial investigation when warranted.

She added that people can coordinate with the University Gender and Development Focal Point and the Loyola Schools Gender Hub by emailing them at genderdev@ateneo.edu and genderhub.ls@ateneo.edu. The two offices are working together to ensure the safety of anyone willing to come forward.

“We assure the public that the University prioritizes the safety and welfare of our students, and the entire Ateneo community. We are committed to institutionalize reforms to ensure that our university is a safe space for all,” she said.

ADMU Sanggunian’s Commission on Anti-Sexual Misconduct & Violence also reminded individuals that they are ready to extend support even to those who are from a different institution.

Meanwhile, Lakambini, a committee part of ASHS Sanggunian that seeks to tackle issues related to gender equality and women empowerment, merely said that they are “reaffirming our advocacy for gender rights in light of these stories of sexual harassment being told [under #HijaAko].”

In stark contrast to the current committee’s stand, alumni of Lakambini called for the “reexamination and upheaval of administration's values that have fostered a culture which allows incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct to persist."

They also reprimanded the current Lakambini, saying their statement “failed to address any relevant issues, namely those involving its own internal administration and the allegations against certain members of the ASHS community.”

“While it is important to say that one stands and empathizes with survivors, taking no action makes those words performative and futile,” they added.

While other schools were quick to respond, DARRSTHS has not released any response on the matter at hand as of writing.

Similar reports and stories emerge day by day and continue to pile under distinct hashtags per school to call for accountability of the alleged perpetrators and the protection of young women.

The cause continues to gain support from various groups, organizations, and advocates, including Kabataan Representative Sarah ElagoSupreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, and Frankie Pangilinan who started the viral #HijaAko hashtag in response to a condescending reply from Ben Tulfo. – Rappler.com

Felicity Santos is a Rappler mover from Pasig City, Metro Manila. She is currently an incoming freshman of the Ateneo de Manila University taking up Bachelor of Arts Major in Political Sciences - Masters in Public Management. She was the Editor-in-Chief of Pauliworld for Editorial Year 2019–2020.